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United states

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Title: The History of the United States, 2nd Edition, 5-7
Lecturer: Patrick N. Allitt
Producer:
The Teaching Company
Duration: 36 x 30 minutes
Media: Audio only

Patrick N. Allitt concludes this 84-part lecture series on the history of the United States (see the first and second review), beginning with the industrialisation of America and concluding with a few lectures on the 1990s, terrorism and Bill Clinton. It has been a long journey and in this review I will focus mainly on Allitt’s contribution, but I will also say something on the subject of the series as a whole.

To start with, it should be mentioned that it must be one hopeless task to summarise the entire history of the United States into such a small span of time. I think Allitt succeeds in choosing relevant topics and he spends an adequate time on each. However, I still think his contribution inferior to his earlier performance in connection with his lecture series on Victorian Britain. I do not know if it is due to my wider experience of lecturers, to the fact that I found the subject matter more interesting or simply to the fact that he has to cover way too much in too brief a period of time. Regardless of the reason, I still did not enjoy the last three parts of this series as much as those prior to them.

Regarding the series as a whole, my impression is positive (The Teaching Company has never let me down before) and I recommend the series if you feel (like I do) ignorant about the subject. For more serious people, the series is much too shallow to be of great interest. However, I still recommend part four, concerning the American Civil War to everyone.

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Title: The History of the United States, 2nd Edition, part 4
Lecturer: Gary W. Gallagher
Producer: The Teaching Company
Duration: 16 x 30 minutes
Media: Audio only

Professor Gary W. Gallagher continues to depict the history of the United States, beginning where Guelzo left off, i.e. in the prelude to the American Civil War. In sixteen well-planned and expertly performed lectures, Gallagher presents the setting in which the war took place, what happened during the war and what consequences it had for the United States as a nation. The narrative is divided into various themes, covering military development, slaves, economics and much more.

As usual, the lectures are very good, but as you can see, I think that Gallagher is worth half an additional snail compared to Guelzo. Why? Gallagher’s lectures are more structured and he also makes this structure obvious to the listener. He always begins with a summary of what he is going to say, which points he is going to pursue, and so forth. At the end of the lecture, he ties everything together and sets the stage for the next lecture. Very well done indeed.

Also, I think that the subject matter is more interesting. I did not know much about the American Civil War, so listening to these sixteen lectures was truly entertaining as well as educational. I recommend them, because even if you are not interested in listening to all 84 lectures, it is perfectly possible to listen to these sixteen lectures if you have the opportunity. The series now change lecturer yet again to professor Allitt, previously review on this website for his excellent lecture series on Victorian Britain.

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Title: The History of the United States, 2nd Edition, parts 1-3
Lecturer: Allen C. Guelzo
Producer: The Teaching Company
Duration: 36 x 30 minutes
Media: Audio only

The Teaching Company’s lecture series about the history of the United States is fairly ambitious, spanning 84 lectures of half an hour each, three different lecturers, roughly 500 years of American history and a broad variety of subjects. Therefore, I have decided to split the reviews of this series into three parts, one for each of the lecturers. First out is Allen C. Guelzo, who lectures on the history of the United States up until the dawn of the American Civil War.

Positive things first. Guelzo is an excellent lecturer (yes, I know, it will soon be boring to praise The Teaching Company’s lecturers, but it cannot be helped, because they are indeed that good), with a pleasantly modulated voice fit to accompany me during the day. His style is clear, straightforward, and connects isolated events into themes and more general ideas.

I think Guelzo picks germane threads of history to weave this bigger fabric depicting the history of the United States. He is anxious to explain why things happened the way they did and does not resort to merely telling a tale of what has happened. His style is lively and animated, which pulls the listener into the narrative.

On the negative side, Guelzo starts by saying that it is easy to be smug about proud of being an American in such a way that it is perceived as smugness by non-Americans. The problem is that he makes himself guilty of this at several instances, especially in the beginning. It is always the Europeans who are evil, but as soon as the settlers do something good, they are suddenly called Americans instead. And so on. However, this is not a very big issue and apart from being a bit annoyed at times, it does not really affect the overall impression of the series so far.

I have finished roughly half of the series, but I will return to you with my impressions as soon as the lecturers switch again. By way of summary, this series is suffused with the same sense of quality and adept teaching skill which I have begun to associate with The Teaching Company.

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